Tech for Agri, Tech for Good

Black Mirror showed us the scary, dark side of technology. But with SenseTech, a global mobilization initiative of MakeSense, the power of technology can be harnessed to achieve the sustainable development goals.

In the Philippines, the related event held on February 22, 2018 at Penbrothers Makati focused on sustainable agriculture. The speakers were Jim Cano of Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) Philippines; Rodolfo Ramirez of 8layer Technologies; and Jericho Arellano and Ian Mia from the start-ups, LakbayAnihan and Lungtian, respectively.


The discussion highlighted some of the issues of the agriculture sector such as lack of government support, uninterested youth, and technology not being maximized due to limited internet connectivity. However, it was noted how SMS or text messaging in itself can already be a helpful tool in providing critical information. This access to relevant information paired with collaboration can magnify the positive impact of technology.

The Tech for Agri event also featured the special performance of artist Jean Paul Zialcita who uses unconventional musical instruments such as water container, goat horns, pieces of wood, and others.

MakeSense is a growing community that is mainly run by volunteers with about 22,000 members worldwide. They empower people to engage in projects and help social entrepreneurs solve concrete challenges to contribute to solutions for some of the biggest problems we face today.


Being an environmentalist

Biology was my favorite subject in high school and I think that made me decide to take up Environmental Science as a course in the university. But I feel like it’s in my blood. I belong to the Ibaloi indigenous ethnic group and as most indigenous people are, they are more connected to the earth. Or maybe I just like trees and mountains, and the natural world. And we’re supposed to be stewards of God’s creation anyway, right?

“Oh, that is so nice of you, trying to protect the environment.” That’s what I usually hear. It’s such a noble cause, they say. But I also remember someone saying, environmentalism is a hopeless idealism. It can seemingly be like that because people have a tendency to self-destruct or perhaps it’s humanity’s plain stupidity. We’re polluting the air and the water, using up all our natural resources, killing animals, cutting down trees, all in the name of development, of feeding society’s insatiable need to consume, and keeping the pockets of corporations fat as ever.

In school, I got to learn more about natural resource management and environmentalism. I had fun climbing mountains, exploring caves, and counting plants and trees. I began volunteering for a local environmental NGO. As a campus journalist, I was able to write about different environmental issues.

Being an environmentalist was not a career but more of a lifestyle for me. It was difficult to look for environmental jobs to begin with. I didn’t want to work for the government and the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) because I didn’t want to lose my idealism early on. So I took jobs unrelated to my course but I always tried to influence people to be more environment-friendly. I encouraged my co-workers to segregate waste. I gave talks on climate change. I urged my friends to volunteer and plant trees.

Now, I work for a solar energy company and I volunteer for Greenpeace Philippines and Climate Reality Project giving me more opportunities for environmental advocacy work. It surprises me how there aren’t a lot of environmentalists around considering the urgency of solving environmental problems. Those who claim to care for the environment don’t do a lot. Don’t get me wrong, every little contribution counts but at the rate of how fast we are destroying the planet, we should be more aggressive in taking action.

Last week, I joined Chikapihan with Yeb Sano, an informal environmental discussion event with the Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and I asked him this question: “Reducing consumption is one way of helping the planet but how can we effectively do this when the very system requires us to consume?” Yeb admits that this is a challenge but the key is balance. He said there’s no single solution. That reducing consumption should be in a cultural or massive scale in order to make an impact. He added that the best way to change the system is to replace it with a new one.

Today is Environment Day and June is Environment Month in the Philippines. Once again, this is a reminder to take positive environmental action to protect nature and the planet Earth. In the words of Bob Marley which is one of Yeb’s favorite quotes, “The people who were trying to make this world worse are not taking the day off, how can I?”

So hopeless idealism this may be, it’s worth the shot. Let’s care a little bit more for the sake of the planet, our future, and ourselves.

#IAmHampasLupa Youth Campaigners in Action

We, the #IAmHampasLupa Youth Campaigners wish to change the way people see food and farming. Hampas-Lupa, usually used as a derogatory term referring to people in poverty, translates to “tilling the land” and there’s nothing wrong about that.

We call on the next president to include food security, nutrition, and ecological agriculture in their political agenda.

We want concrete action on issues of food security exacerbated by the effects of climate change and El Nino.

Join us in pushing for a safe, sustainable, and climate resilient way of farming.

Green Thumb Coalition Earth Day Celebration (1)
#IAmHampasLupa Youth Campaigners join the Tinig ng 10 Milyon para sa Kalikasan Green Thumb Coalition Earth Day March on April 22, 2016. (c) Marvin Almonte
Green Thumb Coalition Earth Day Celebration (2).jpg
“If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make the change.” The campaigners dancing to Man in the Mirror on Earth Day. (c) Virginia Benosa
We are one with the fisher folks on their call for presidential candidates to address issues involving coastal communities and deteriorating fishing grounds (April 24, 2016). (c) Marvin Almonte
Unity bike for Kidapawan farmers on April 23, 2016, organized by campaigners in Mindanao.
HL Silent Protest.jpg
Silent protest asking the presidentiables what they can do to address food security issues (April 24, 2016). (c) Manila Bulletin
Join us this 27th of April for the National Solidarity Dance Mob for food security, farmers, and ecological agriculture happening simultaneously in Baguio, Manila, Bacolod, Cebu, and Davao.



It’s April Fools Day but the Food Crisis in Mindanao is No Joke!

Climate change is real. Al Gore has been talking about it for years now. We didn’t listen or we just didn’t care.

As early as November 2014, PAGASA has already released dry condition advisory in the Philippines. We didn’t listen or we just didn’t care.

Several cities in Mindanao are now under state of calamity due to El Nino. People are going hungry. Farmers protested. Chaos. Injury. Death. Are we listening? Do we even care?

Government office candidates are campaigning for the nearing election. Promising to address issues, to help the poor, to feed the hungry. We know they don’t really listen and a lot of them don’t care.

It’s our call. We have to start listening to the cries of nature. We wouldn’t be where we are now if only we cared more for the environment.

Trivializing environment issues vs. taking a stand

The presidential candidates during the recent debate in Cebu seem to have trivialized environment issues. We just don’t want to believe what we see. Al Gore, during the Climate Reality Project training explained that these environment issues are almost a spiritual problem. Are we trying to fill life’s emptiness with consumerism and destruction which stop us from facing the reality? Are we so consumed with greed and apathy that we don’t see what our only planet is turning into?

It’s all doom and gloom. But I’m encouraged to see individuals taking a stand, doing what they can for the environment. Be inspired by their initiatives.


The Cordillera Ecological Center and A Tree A Day led the Walk for the International Day of Forests and Trees. Headed by environmental activist, Michael Bengwayan, Baguio residents protest against all forms of tree cutting.


Cebu City Councilor Nestor Archival’s eco-house, a house close to nature, demonstrates how we can live sustainably. The eco-house features renewable energy source through solar panels and biogas, organic farming, aquaponics, vermicomposting, recycling, and waste management. (c)Hazel Aghon


Nanay Gloria embraces the four laws of ecology in farming: everything is connected to everything else, everything must go somewhere else, nature knows best, and there is no such thing as a free lunch. (c) Jenny Tuazon/Greenpeace Philippines



Musings on Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project

Back in college, I read Al Gore’s book, “Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit” and I was amazed and inspired by how passionate he was about promoting climate change awareness. Today, I had the opportunity to witness his presentation during the 31st Climate Reality Leadership Corps training held in Manila.

Al Gore

It was sad to once again be confronted by the realities of climate change. Why did we allow our planet to be in its current state? Global warming, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, typhoons, droughts. The presentation which included video clips of raging floods, disintegrating glaciers, forest fires, and people crying as they talk about lost lives and properties due to natural disasters was heartbreaking. What’s worst, as Pope Francis, in his Encyclical letter, states, the gravest effect of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest.

Global systems vulnerable to climate are food supply, water, health, and infrastructure. Al Gore further stressed that there is a risk of food security in the Philippines because of climate change.

I know Al Gore didn’t want me to feel depressed but this is the inconvenient truth we oh, so try to ignore. It is real. It is urgent. But it is also solvable. One of the solutions Gore focused on is shifting from coal to renewable source of energy. Incidentally, the solar power company I’m working for, SolarPacific, would be inaugurating its first solar farm in Misamis Oriental this week so I’m happy that somehow we are contributing to the solution.

The 12.5 MWp Kirahon Solar Power Plant at Misamis Oriental.

And speaking of solutions, I remember how environmental advocates in Baguio, headed by one of my mentors, Michael Bengwayan, an environmental activist, are organizing a march for the trees on March 21 celebrating the International Day of Forest.

There are so many initiatives being done to stop climate change. The 650 strong participants of the Climate Reality Project, have been pitching in and have committed to continue contributing to the solution.

Al Gore said it best, “The will to act is in itself a renewable resource.” May we continue harnessing this resource.


Making Sense of Food Security

MakeSense, a community of more than 20,000 volunteers around the world who help social entrepreneurs solve their challenges, organized MKS Room – a discussion on food security at A Space Makati on March 10, 2016.

Virginia Benosa-Llorin, Food for Life Campaigner at Greenpeace Philippines, which campaigns for behavior change and political action on food security provided an overview of the agriculture sector in the Philippines. She also talked about the #IAmHampasLupa ecological agriculture campaign.

Solutions to the challenges in agriculture were presented by Rachel De Villa, CTO & Founder of Cropital, the first crowd-funding platform to invest in farmers; and Melanie Sacay, Founder of Aquaponics Philippines, which supports the growth of aquaponics throughout the country through guides, tutorials, and resources.

Amalia and Benito, a musical duo and co-founders of Kayumanggi Organics, performed during the event and also talked about their proudly Filipino, sustainable, and healthy products.

MKS Rooms are live events that blend musical and cultural performances and discussions with social entrepreneurs. Each event is centered on a specific cause with the goal of generating attention, fostering exchanges, and creating traction towards positive change.

#IAmHampasLupa for Food Sovereignty and Food Sufficiency

According to Greenpeace, the world produces more than enough food to feed all of us. However, almost 1 billion people go to sleep hungry every night. Around 1 billion are overweight or obese. And 30% of the world’s food is wasted.

In the Philippines, farming is looked down on. It doesn’t come as a surprise then that the average age of farmers in the country is 57. Their income per year is less than $500. They don’t even own the lands they farm.

Considering all these realities, Greenpeace Philippines came up with its #IAmHampasLupa Campaign. The word hampaslupa is a derogatory term to characterize someone in extreme poverty. Its literal translation though is to hit or till the soil which farmers do. The campaign then aims to change this negative perception towards farmers and farming in general.

What can you do to support this movement?

Challenge yourself and pledge your support for ecological agriculture.

Support local farmers by buying their produce.

Eat more organically grown fruits and vegetables. Lessen meat consumption. And don’t waste food.

You can also try to grow your own food through container or urban gardening.

Together, we can achieve food sovereignty and food sufficiency.

Get this shirt now.

Be Part of the 5 Million

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better – It’s not.” -The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss

It started in one country. When 50,000 people gathered in Estonia in 2008 to clean up the whole nation and collected 10,000 tons of illegal waste. Others were inspired to do the same and the movement went global when Let’s Do It! World Cleanup was launched in 2012.

The planet is turning into one giant dumpsite as we generate 1.2 kg of waste per person per day (1.3 billion tons per year) according to the World Bank. These wastes end up in landfills and worst, in natural environments such as forests, rivers, and oceans.

So with the goal to clean up the country and be part of the solution, Let’s Do It! Philippines targets to mobilize 5 million volunteers, which is around 5% of the country’s total population, to participate in the National Cleanup Day on September 20.

Eco-warriors in different regions and provinces are coordinating with local government units, schools and universities, NGO’s, and other groups. This is not only to promote the movement but to encourage everyone to reduce waste, to be responsible in disposing garbage, and to maintain cleanliness.

With climate change, pollution, and other environmental problems, the Earth which we call our home needs our help more than ever. Be that someone who cares a whole awful lot. Be part of the 5 million!


UNLESS… Earth-friendly Friday Plastic

Plastic. It’s everywhere. At home, in shops, on the streets, in the dump, buried underground, floating in the wind, tossed in the ocean.

We are a bunch of consumers. And consumers want everything to be convenient. Plastic to the rescue. It’s cheap, it’s disposable, it makes life easier. But since it’s non-biodegradable, it doesn’t really disappear. You throw it – out of sight, out of mind, but it’ll still be there.

Good thing is people are now realizing this (finally, duh!), better late than never, I suppose. In places like Quezon City in the Philippines where I currently live, they ban plastic bags. Shops require you to use a re-usable bag or they issue a paper bag. If you choose to use plastic, you pay for “Plastic Recovery Fee,” following the polluter pay principle.

But for me, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Changing one’s mindset, a complete paradigm shift, is what we need. As an environmentalist, I know that it actually takes a lot of effort to be environmentally conscious.

You organize a party, for instance. Do you bring heavy plates and cutlery or just buy paper plates, plastic spoons and forks, and plastic cups? I think we know which gets the vote. You go disposable, saves you the time of cleaning and washing up. Saves water, too, they even counter.

Okay, no more plastic bags. And here comes re-usable eco-bags. And it has become a trend and people just want to join in the bandwagon. Not a bad thing. They’re just concerned about the environment. But with our consumer mentality, we buy them, never really using them. Then they end up as trash, and they are much more difficult to dispose of.

And don’t get me started on packaging. Products packed in plastic, placed in a box with a plastic window, and the whole thing put in a fancy plastic wrapping.

Reduce, reuse, recycle – we always say. But we skip through the process and tell ourselves, “I’ll buy this, use it for a little while, then throw, er, recycle it…” Reducing waste is the first step. That means being a wise consumer or being less of a consumer as we normally are.

But that’s so much work and it’s so inconvenient. Well, if you really care about the environment, again, it takes a lot of effort.